You see lives hidden behind closed doors
Brodie Leathem isn't like most 21 year old men. Whilst his mates are out drinking and having a good time, Brodie fills his spare hours working for Access Homehealth in Wellington as a complex needs support worker. Indeed Brodie isn't like many support workers.
'I spent three years in Dunedin exploring different avenues of study including law, policy, economics, sociology and Maori studies, finally settling on pursuing a major in psychology. I've taken a gap year out balancing part time study with work to help me consider my future direction. It was my mum, a support worker based in Mt Maunganui, who suggested I try support work as a rewarding experience that would also pay the bills.'
On a continual journey of self exploration Brodie even spent time working for a Cantonese family in their tofu factory. However it didn't offer the sense of personal reward he was after, being 'just a job'. 'Home care wasn't so much a calling as wanting to explore the challenge. I work 16 hours with two regular clients - one is a 13 year old boy with very complex needs including Cystic Fibrosis. He is bed ridden with limited mobility and cognitive abilities. However I find my role is as much about supporting his mother as it is providing personal cares for her son. When she is feeling down I try to pick her up and I help her with house work. She is a single parent and yet her attitude to the challenges she faces caring for her son, makes her the epitome of inspiration. That's what I most admire about this role.' Brodie's other client is a man in his early 90s with early onset of Parkinson's. Seeing an elderly couple in love, at peace and enjoying their married relationship offers an interesting contrast and as Brodie puts it 'hope for the future'.
'You see people when they are at their greatest time of need. Then another time you may see them at their element - it's gratifying to be able to see them less as people needing care and rather their individual strengths and interests and to be a part of helping them keep that', says Brodie. He also notes how clients value the human contact. 'It's about being more of an ear than a mouth piece. For the mother of the disabled child I care for, it's about listening to her needs too. She knows she'll never see him play football or go out on a date - for his level of disability there will be no progression in mental and physical health. Most people don't see the lives hidden behind closed doors, the insular struggles of caring families, so to be that bridge, that ear is both challenging and rewarding.'
So what does the future hold for Brodie? 'I see many ways the healthcare industry could be improved and would like to one day be an influencer. Maybe a job specialising in dementia - for those who are less likely to be able to say directly how they can best be helped. Working at ground level, it's been good to encounter people in all states of the human condition. My 13 year old client's mother says she sometimes struggles with the mental energy needed to deal with all the issues she has - building on my hands-on experience I'd love to one day be the champion for people like her, to act as their voice towards helping the whole family and whanau, the silent sufferers.'